No. 13 Gym'Backs face No. 4 LSU in Bayou Battle

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas gymnastics team has faced some of the nation’s best teams in the early weeks of the season and Friday’s Southeastern Conference match up at No. 4 LSU is no exception. The Gym’Backs, ranked No. 13 in this week’s poll, have defeated No. 25 Minnesota, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 15 Auburn (all rankings as of this week) and suffered a narrow loss against No. 7 Georgia in the home opener last Friday. Now they travel to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center facing a 3-2 Tiger team in their home gym. "This is the top-ranked team in the conference right now," acknowledged co-head coach Rene Cook. "This is a great competitive environment and it will be a very spirited competition." "LSU’s a great team," echoed co-head coach Mark Cook. "Last year, they missed the Super Six by the smallest of margins and they returned everyone from that team. We expect them to be good. They are well-trained and focused." But so is Arkansas. In just its third season of competive action, the Gym’Backs have made themselves known in the SEC and in the nation reaching the NCAA Regionals last year and ranking as high at No. 11 in the first two seasons. The Gym’Backs travel to Baton Rouge, La., for the second time in the program’s history returning with juniors who experienced the Bayou as freshmen in 2003. "We’re much more mature and confident and that continues to build each time we compete," said Rene Cook. "It has been exciting to return to SEC schools with upperclassmen who have been to these sites before. They are really doing a great job of leading the newcomers." Junior co-captains Dana McQuillin and Hannah McLeod will lead Arkansas into action this weekend. McQuillin is Arkansas’ top all-around threat while McLeod hopes to return to the lineup on a limited basis after being sidelined by injury two weeks ago. "Dana leads by example," said Rene Cook. "She just quietly takes care of her business and sets a good tone for the rest of the team. It’s also great to have Hannah back, even on a limited scale. Her presence is good for the team." Arkansas’ freshmen have also been important and have had an immediate impact on the third-year program. Emily Peacock, Mallory Machnik and Samantha Cortez have all contributed with Cortez competing for the all-around title in the first four meets of the year. "Our focus this weekend will be the same as always," said Rene Cook. "We want to hit our routines and not count any mistakes. We just have to focus on the things we can control and not worry about anything else." The meet is the fourth in five weekends Arkansas finds itself on the road and the bags will stay packed another week as the Gym’Backs travel to Seattle, Wash., for non-conference action Feb. 11. Arkansas returns home for two in a row Feb. 18 hosting Florida and Feb. 25 as Alabama comes to town. For more information about Arkansas gymnastics or for tickets please call the Lady Razorback Ticket Office at 57-LBACK or log on to LADYBACKS.COM.